Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dads & Sons 1: The Painter and the Musician

With this post I propose to begin a three-part series exploring the lives of three sets of famous fathers and sons in Italian history.

In each case, it is the son whose name is best known today.  In each case, this was not necessarily so during the years when the sons' lives overlapped with the fathers'.

In each case, father and son are remembered for excellence in two different spheres of activity.  In each case, I propose to try to find a connection, a way in which the famous (in his day) father influenced or taught his famous (even today) son.

And I propose to spend more time on the father than on the son, as it is very easy to find information on the latter, but the former presents more of a research challenge.

It would be much more difficult to do this with mothers and daughters, given the paucity of records about the lives of Italian women in the middle ages and Renaissance, but I just might give it a try anyway, once this is done.  We'll see.

The Painter and the Musician

Our first father-son pair is comprised of 14th century painter Jacopo (or Iacopo) del Casentino and his son, the composer and organist Francesco Landini.  In this pairing the son will get particularly short shrift, because he interests me, a lot, and I plan to focus on him in a later blog post, so I don't want to use up all my material now.

Tombstone of Francesco Landini, San Lorenzo, Florence
The Son

Luminibus captus, Franciscus mente capaci cantibus organicis quem cunctis Musica solum pretulit, hic cineres, animam super astra reliquit.

"Deprived of the light, Francesco, whom alone Music extolls above all others for his great intellect and his organ music, rests his ashes here, his soul above the stars."  (translated by musicologist Leonard Ellinwood)

So reads the inscription on the tombstone of Francesco Landini, was was born in either Fiesole or Florence, in 1325 or 1335.

Francesco's image shows a dignified and sightless man, holding a portative organ.  The best-known Italian composer of his day and a virtuoso on the organ and on several other instruments, Francesco Landini was a poet as well as a musician.  He received a laurel crown for his poetry from the King of Cyprus in Venice in 1364 (and Petrarch was one of the judges).

Landini was well-versed in philosophy and was a follower of William of Occam.  He was also thoroughly educated in the seven liberal arts (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, musical theory, dialectic, rhetoric, and grammar), and he took an active part in the various political and philosophical debates of his time.

He was a maker of instruments as well.  A consultant to organ builders and a tuner of organs, he is also said to have invented an instrument called the "syrena syrenarum," which may have been an ancestor to the bandora.

The birds themselves were said to respond to Francesco's organ music, and as for his human listeners, his contemporaries tell us that Francesco "delighted the weary with pleasing sweetness," and that "the sweetness of his melodies was such that hearts burst from their bosoms."

And he accomplished all this despite having been blinded by smallpox as a child.

Today we still have over 150 of Francesco Landini's compositions.  In fact, his output comprises a quarter to a third of the Italian trecento repertoire known to have survived.  It is still performed regularly by early music ensembles, and many recordings have been made.

We'll return to Francesco in a future blog post.  In the meantime, though, since when dates are unknown or confusing a medieval musician is often said to have "flourished" during a certain time period, I thought I should give you a picture of Francesco flourishing a bit more than he was in the picture above:

Francesco Landini (from the Squarcialupi Codex)
 The Father

Jacopo del Casentino (maybe)
For many years, most of what we knew about Jacopo del Casentino came from Giorgio Vasari's vast work, Lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors and architects, published in 1550 and heavily revised in 1568.  Vasari is, in fact, the source of much of what we know about many of the artists up until his time.

But while Vasari's work is a treasure trove of information, not all of it holds up.  He gave it his best shot, but considering the volume of information he was working with, it's not surprising that he would occasionally be taken in by confusion regarding names or dates, or report legend or hearsay as fact.

Victorian art historian Herbert P. Horne wrote a commentary on Vasari's life of Jacopo, in which he says that confusion about Jacopo's date of death, combined with the existence of a slightly later painter with a very similar name, has resulted in a muddled identity for Francesco Landini's father.  Thus, the portrait above (from Vasari) may well not be Jacopo after all.

Triptych by Jacopo del Casentino, Uffizi
 So what do we know for sure?  Not very much, actually.  Jacopo (or Iacopo) del Casentino (or da Prato Vecchio) was a painter of some distinction, working in Tuscany in the 14th century.  (The surname "Landini" was applied to Francesco Landini only after his lifetime; it comes from the given name of one of his forebears.  "del Casentino" means that Jacopo came from the Casentino region, one of the valleys of the Arno River, the river which runs through Florence and once constituted the city's southernmost border.)

Jacopo is said to have been born around 1297, but wildly differing death dates have been suggested for him:  1349 (suggesting that he might have succumbed to the plague), or 1358, or, if Vasari is correct that Jacopo died at the age of 80, he might have died as late as 1377 (or else been born considerably earlier than 1297).  He is described as being "of the school of Giotto" (Dante's famous contemporary Giotto di Bondone is a topic for another future post).

Triptych by Giotto
Let's wrestle with the death date issue a bit, because it's important.  We know that Jacopo was one of the co-founders of the Company of San Luca, a confraternity of painters in Florence, and we know that it was founded in 1339.  If he was born in 1297, he'd have been 42 at that time, and his son Francesco would have been either 4 or 14, depending on which birth year is correct for him.  If the former, he might still have had his sight; if the latter, he probably didn't.

I took an interest in Jacopo when I realized that this man was an artist with a son who would never be able to see his father's work.  I started (years ago) keeping an eye open for works by Jacopo, so that I could look at them for Francesco.  (I know, it's silly, but when I get mentally and emotionally involved with medieval Italians, I do that sort of thing.)  Here's the one we saw most recently, in the Vatican collection:

Vasari says that Jacopo was a student of Taddeo Gaddi, in Giotto's workshop.  Gaddi's proposed birth years - as usual, we're not sure - are 1290 or 1300, making him either slightly older or slightly younger than Jacopo, an unusual but not impossible teacher-student relationship.  Some scholars believe they were simply contemporaries and colleagues, which could suggest that Jacopo was trained directly by Giotto.

Triptych by Taddeo Gaddi
Vasari claims that Jacopo was the teacher of Spinello Aretino.  But Spinello lived from  ca. 1350-ca.1410 (we think...), which would make it pretty hard for Jacopo to have been his teacher if he had died in 1349.  Or, for that matter, 1358, unless Spinello was quite precocious.  (This would make him - Spinello, I mean - Gaddi's grandstudent and Giotto's great-grandstudent.)

Triptych by Spinello Aretino
And yet... Horne has the last word, to my mind, because he produces evidence.  He cites the death records of the Company of San Luca, which lists the painter's death in 1349.

Which means he cannot have been Spinello's teacher, though it does not rule out his being Gaddi's student.  It also means that my theory of father-son connections just imploded, because I was relying on Vasari's statement that Jacopo supervised the rebuilding of the ancient Roman waterworks of a public fountain in Arezzo - in 1358.  My idea:  Jacopo engineered the flow of water, and Francesco, when he worked on building organs, engineered the flow of air.

Nope.  Oh, well.  The engineer must have been that later artist with a similar name.  Our Jacopo, then, probably died of plague (though I'm sure people did manage to find other things to die of, even in 1348-9).  He left Francesco and at least one brother, though Horne draws up a family tree that includes two brothers:  Cristofano, and Matteo who was a painter.

But music history research reveals that Francesco Landini had a brother named Nuccio, also an organist, though when he performed with Francesco he was relegated to pumping the bellows.  Is Nuccio another name for Cristofano or Matteo, or yet another brother?  I have no idea.

And needless to say, we also have no idea who Francesco's mother was, or whether he had sisters.  We do know that somewhat post-plague, he and one unnamed brother were under the guardianship of someone other than their father, which reinforces the 1349 death date for Jacopo.  Francesco, with the later of his two possible birthdays, would have been a minor at that time, though because of his blindness, even had he reached the age of majority (i.e. the earlier birthdate is the right one), he might still have found himself in the care of a guardian.

We also know that Cristoforo Landino, the Florentine humanist and intimate friend of Lorenzo de' Medici, was Jacopo's great-grandson.  Landino wrote about his great-uncle Francesco in his commentary on Dante's Divine Commedy written in 1481.  Jacopo begat Crostofano who begat Bartomommeo who begat Cristoforo Landino (or Landini), now securely bearing a surname that may have derived from one Landino in his ancestry, who may have fought in the Battle of Campaldino in 1289.

(Dante also fought in that battle.  However, since there are rumors that Jacopo's family hailed from Arezzo, we don't know whether they fought on the same side. Perhaps the Arezzo connection was with that other, later painter, who lived well into the 1370s.)

Jacopo painted altarpieces to adorn Florence's churches, and tabernacles to inspire devotion in her streets.

Tabernacle by Jacopo del Casentino
Many of his works have not survived the ravages of time, but some are in museums for us to enjoy, or even still in their original church locations.

One of them has recently had an adventure.

Last year, officials of Louisville's Speed Art Museum agreed to return a stolen painting to Italy, nearly 40 years after it was taken.  On October 2, 1971, burglars entered the Villa La Giraffa in Goito, Italy early in the morning, cutting through metal bars and a glass window, and absconded with fourteen pieces of art, worth over $30 million at the time.  One of these was a triptych by Jacopo (and I don't have a picture of it, but this whole post has been fairly triptych-intensive, so you probably have a pretty good idea what it looked like). 

Agents of the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tracked the painting down, and the museum, which purchased the painting in 1973, agreed to return it to its rightful owners once the agents brought the theft to its attention.  A press release describes the painting as "one-of-a-kind," which makes me wonder what exactly they were expecting - paint by number, maybe?  Be that as it may, Jacopo's work was freed to go home.

And on that note, we leave this mass of confusing dates and names and guesses behind us, and move on.  Next installment will be Dads & Sons 2:  The Musician and the Goldsmith.  See you then.

Images in this post are in the public domain by reason of antiquity, except for two:  our photo of the painting in the Vatican, and the photo of the tabernacle by Jacopo, which is by Sailko and is licensed on Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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